Zealand: Phil Joel revealing fresh creative edge since Newsboys

Friday 27th July 2018

Tony Cummings spoke to the one-time Newsboys stalwart about his new band, ZEALAND


New Zealand-born, USA-based Phil Joel has long been a man of creative surprises. In 1994-2006, during his 12 years with CCM hitmakers Newsboys, he somehow found the time to make three solo albums. In 2006 he shocked fans by announcing his departure from Newsboys. In 2007 he shocked fans again by releasing an album of children's music and did the same thing three years later. In 2015 Phil launched his new band, Zealand Worship, with an EP release. In 2018 Newsboys announced that their Newsboys United marathon tour of the USA would feature not only its current hot line-up, but much loved band members from yesteryear Peter Furler and Phil Joel, and not only that, the support act on the tour would be Phil's band, now renamed Zealand - Phil Joel (vocals, guitar), Ben Garrett (guitar), Ben Bugna (drums) and recent addition Roger Angove (bass), with a much-praised debut full-length album 'Liberated' released. With such a rollercoaster ride of creative activity, I was delighted to find that the singer, songwriter, guitarist and bass player still had time to talk to Cross Rhythms about his life and music.

Tony: Well, Phil, you've got a very, very busy schedule at the moment. How's the tour with the Newsboys going?

Phil: The tour with the Newsboys is going great. Honestly, it could not be better. It's busy but it's kind of flying by cos we're having so much fun doing it. It really is a great tour.

Tony: Are you naturally a man who wallows in nostalgia?

Phil: (laughs) No, that's a good question. Negative. I'm not. I get sentimental with the best of them at moments but this definitely is a bit of a nostalgia tour but it also just feels like - it's strange, because it actually feels fresh at the same time.

Tony: I wonder if that's because, in addition to being a look back with the Newsboys, it's a look forward with what you're doing with Zealand, isn't it? It's both simultaneously.

Phil: Yeah, I'm doing double duty on this tour. Getting to do Zealand at the start of the show is a bonus; it's such a gift. I get to say, hey, this is what I'm doing now and then also this is what I used to do. But for a lot of people, what I used to do, the Peter and Phil part of Newsboys, and that era, for a lot of people it's brand new. It's a whole different energy that they're enjoying and it definitely goes hand in hand with Zealand, so it's a gift for me to be able to get out there and do both.

Tony: Was it difficult for you to leave the Newsboys all those years ago?

Phil: I really felt called away. It was time to move. And one of the indicators, honestly, was there were a number of things that I felt in my heart that I wanted to be a part of, that I wanted to do, but I kind of got bored. It's funny, I'm remembering it now because we're three months into this tour and you play the same song - you remember that Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day? It's just like being in Groundhog Day. Doing the same thing every day. When the Lord is stirring your heart and you're growing and learning new things and you're wanting to express new things, that can become really restraining. I felt after 13 years it was enough. It was time to move on and do new things, explore new territory and that's what I've been doing, all kinds of ministry and stuff.

Tony: I was very impressed that when you left you didn't start a band of your own which sounded a bit like the Newsboys. But you went to an area which I felt was severely neglected and that was children's ministry. Was that because you're a family man yourself?

Phil: Totally. My kids are now teenagers, but when I left Newsboys they were little and I felt there was a void. I'm not like a businessman kind of guy at all, there's a void, you fill that, make money. There was a void out there in 'churchdom' for quality music for children which would get good stuff into their hearts. And I thought, let's just make some.

Sadly, there are children's albums like the Cedarmont Kids, that type of stuff, which met a certain need in a certain market, I'm sure, but they sold them very cheaply but it kind of put the squash on making quality music for that generation. So I tried to break through that. I made two CDs. Here in Nashville, where I live, the record company I was with at the time said if you do this that's it; that's the end of your career. Once people start making kids' music it's all over. So, me being the defiant kind of guy I guess I am I said I'm going to make two. We'll make sure we do the job good and proper, if it's the end. I'm really proud of that stuff. I feel it really filled a need and still does. It's still out there, it's still available and finding its way to mini vans and kitchens all around the world. There was a need there. And now my heartbeat is for - maybe my world just runs parallel to where I am with my family, I don't know - but my kids are teenagers and Zealand has a lot more of a teen focus. I want to reach this generation that is coming through that is struggling with unique things. I always think the generation before or even a couple before they really can help. They see things that this new generation doesn't see; they wrestle with things that they haven't wrestled with yet; they can help bridge the gap. I feel this amazing place of privilege where I'm being put in front of teenagers at youth conferences and all kinds of events all around the country. And that's what Zealand is about: helping these kids become zealous for the Lord, zealous for who they are, for their relationship with God. It's a fun time we're in right now.

Zealand: Phil Joel revealing fresh creative edge since Newsboys

Tony: Personally, I believe there's going to be a worldwide revival one day, and I don't think it's that far off. I believe some of that is going to come directly out of worship music today.

Phil: Yeah, I think you're right. I'm excited to see where things go. I don't know if I'm naturally optimistic, glass half full type, but I've got kids moving into their future and I want to see them be a part of the solution. I want to see them be a part of bringing and representing who God truly is to a generation that is in need. Worship and worship music is definitely a part of it. I don't know if that's the complete picture but it's definitely a part of it, so hopefully we'll see that.

Tony: If I asked you a question: What are you? Are you a musical evangelist or are you a man who's trying to carry something prophetic to the world and to the Church? Or are you leading a worship band?

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